There has been much discussion of late in my world about the necessity of the soft skills. These skills are often loosely defined, but noted as some of the most critical to mastering successful business acumen. Peggy Klaus penned an entire book about these skills, The Hard Truth About Soft Skills – Workplace Lessons Smart People Wished They’d Learned Sooner. One of her quotes is featured as my Billboard above. I would like to start a campaign to note these as Essential Skills over Soft Skills. Everyone always seems to ask where these skills are accumulated. I love the Southern concept of “home training”. I know I learned some classic lessons in my youth that have been instrumental to my success, and I was reared in the Midwest, not my now beloved South.
Raised in a home that doubled as my father’s second office made an impact on my perspective. The phone was business tool, and not primarily for our social use. We were to answer the phone properly, at all times. If it was a customer or potential customer, we were training to offer some initial triage ideas and then we would work to get a service call request to my Dad or Uncle Ted. There was often a bit of panic in the voice of the caller as our business was Plumbing & Heating. I can still instruct someone on how to turn off a water source from miles away and learned early on how to coach little old ladies against opening the door of their gas ovens as a heat source. I credit my Dad’s business and his Essential Skills with the development of my savvy problem solving skills and a keen sense of listening and questioning.
In my yesteryear, we did not have smart phones in which to connect, instead these were land-lines with long cords attached to walls. Dad did not adapt to the pager technology, so we left messages at his business office if we could not reach him directly. I remember a Morse code option available for him to “pick-up” these messages. He would often "borrow" a customer’s phones to retrieve these messages. There was also some antiquated radio technology I briefly remembered before I moved away from home. Somehow, without all the connection options we have today, his business managed to thrive!
I also learned lessons in detail as I was instructed to get as much information as was possible to help my Dad and Uncle proceed. A phone number and address were imperative in this note taking. We did not have caller ID so these details were most important. We always had the White Pages, but this was not a good resource if you did not have the proper spelling of the last name (some of these names were hard enough to pronounce, much less spell). Many times, folks were referred to us and we took these as notes as well as my father would not recall a name. Referrals were important to his business. I learned how to ask good questions so as to arm Dad or my Uncle Ted with the best information. I also learned the important lesson of calling folks back for clarification.
I remember being able to go with Dad on a few service calls after dinner and realizing even more about his work. Most times, this was an easy assignment such as lighting a pilot light or turning off the water source as no one was around who could help a damsel in distress with this important task. Often these callers were my grandmothers counterparts, widowed, without neighbors or kids to assist. I always remember the relief in their voices when we would call and confirm that someone was on their way to fix their problem. The importance of follow-up was a garnered lesson.
Educated in the Liberal Arts, I seemed to have had more opportunities to use and master these skill sets. I continually work to ask better questions. I am diligent to understand another’s point of view. I think about next steps and follow-up with my correspondence. I remain organized and focused on how others can follow me and my work efforts. I laugh when I repeat back numbers, something my Father taught us to always do to verify our work. Most importantly, I remember the impact of tone in our conversations.
As a Human Resources professional, my challenge (should you agree to accept this) is how can you foster continued Essential/Soft Skill development across your teams? I challenge you to take a moment and commend someone who has demonstrated exceptional Emotional Intelligence with their team through some tough decisions, acknowledge a stellar committee meeting, thank a front desk receptionist for fantastic customer service by phone or witnessed in person or offer a sincere thank you for a job well done which is long overdue. These are the easiest to do, yet are often left undone. These suggestions cost time, and the results will pay dividends.
The harder challenge will be to set up a one-one-one appointment to walk someone through some observations or voiced concerns and offer some counsel, constructive critique and potentially some suggestions. If the receiver is open, these Essential Skills can be improved. The best way is to set a safe environment for these discussions and the offer of coach and counsel. These conversations are tough and initially not well received, but the long-term effects are powerful. We have all been pulled aside for such feedback, and I expect many will remember this and have made some changes based on the observations and the source. This is important mentorship that does make a difference. Over my career, some of the managers who offered some of the hardest feedback were some of the most memorable.
How do you share your lessons of your own Essential Skill Development?